DENVER (AP) — Backup Anders Lindback stopped 34 shots before leaving early in the final period after a collision and Patric Hornqvist scored his team-leading 27th goal to lift the playoff-bound Nashville Predators to a 6-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday night in the regular-season finale for both teams.
David Legwand, Craig Smith, Roman Josi, Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk also had goals for Nashville, which clinched the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference before the game when Central Division rival Detroit lost to Chicago in a shootout. The Predators open the playoffs next week by hosting the Red Wings.
Matt Duchene scored the lone goal for an Avalanche team that struggled down the stretch and missed the playoffs for a second straight season.
With nothing to gain in the season finale, the Predators tried to give goaltender Pekka Rinne the night off and started Lindback, who did his best Rinne impersonation by turning in quite a few sensational saves.
But barely two minutes into the third period Lindback took a hit from Cody McLeod as he scrambled back into the net. Lindback stayed down for a few minutes before trainers came out to check on him. He skated over to the bench and into the dressing room.
Rinne entered the game and finished it off, stopping 10 shots.
The Predators rested some of their regulars, including forwards Sergei Kostitsyn, Martin Erat and Mike Fisher. In all, the team benched a combined 65 goals, but it hardly mattered as their offense didn’t miss a beat.
Even more, this contest got some players back on track. Legwand scored his first goal in nine games, while Smith also ended a long scoring drought. Josi, a defenseman, even got into the act, sending a wrist shot past Jean-Sebastien Giguere for his first goal since Feb. 27.
All told, 12 different Predators had at least a point. Kevin Klein and Smith each had two assists as the team tied a season high for goals in a game.
Nashville finished with 104 points this season, marking the fourth time in franchise history the team has eclipsed the century barrier. But here’s a first: The Predators finally finished ahead of Detroit in the division.
Colorado was officially eliminated from postseason contention on Thursday night with a 5-2 loss to last-place Columbus. In contention down the stretch, the Avalanche dropped six of their last seven to seal their fate.
They now head into the offseason with quite a few decisions to make. First and foremost, whether to bring back coach Joe Sacco, who’s in the final year of his contract.
The team may be saying farewell to captain Milan Hejduk. He’s maintained for days that he’s on the fence about returning for a 14th season.
Just in case he doesn’t return, the team recognized Hejduk, one of the last remaining links to the Stanley Cup days, by playing a video tribute in the first period. Hejduk ranks second in franchise history in games (991). He’s also among the team’s all-time leaders in goals (371), points (794) and assists (423).
Yip scored a goal against his former team in the third period on a wraparound shot. It was his third goal of the season.
Nashville kept relentless pressure on Giguere in the opening period and came away with three goals, including one by Hornqvist that just beat the horn. The officials took a long look on replay, before deciding that Hornqvist’s redirect slipped past Giguere with less than a second remaining.
Giguere was in net for the first time since March 15th. His long layoff was due to the stellar play of young Russian netminder Semyon Varlamov, who had a solid second half of the season. Varlamov went 11-6-1 in his last 18 starts with a 1.88 goals-against average.
NOTES: The Avalanche gave D Shane O’Brien the night off, along with forwards Kevin Porter and Steve Downie. … As part of “Fan Appreciation Night,” Colorado players gave game-worn jerseys to selected patrons after the contest. … Colorado finished 22-17-2 at Pepsi Center. … Nashville was 4-0 against Colorado this season.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)